What happens when a brewer adds herbs usually found in southern French cuisine to a malt-forward farmhouse ale with a higher-than-usual alcohol content? You get a brew that's not only refreshing on a hot summer day, but pairs well with a premium cigar.
Craft brewery Dogfish Head has done just that with its new Biére de Provence, a farmhouse-style ale that's part of a trio of limited beers released for the summer. The other two beers—Festina Peche (a slightly sour Berliner Weisse) and Namaste (a Belgian-style witbeir)—are certainly refreshing, but smoke from a cigar tended to overwhelm them.
Biére de Provence is brewed with a botanical blend of culinary herbs that includes lavender, bay leaf marjoram and chervil. Traditionally used in southern France to season meat, poultry and vegetables, these herbs tend to flourish during the hot summer months and, when combined with other botanicals, are known as Herbes de Provence.
Dogfish Head is calling Biére de Provence a saison, despite the French influence and the fact that the name is a subtle nod to France's specialty farmhouse-style biére de garde. And while the beer does use Belgian yeast, the more malt-forward, herbaceous profile leans closer to a biére de garde than a saison, which is typically dry, fruity and a bit hoppier. However, since there really is no standard for saisons, many craft brewers take liberties with what goes into them.
The malty profile and high-alcohol content (8.3 percent alcohol by volume) make Biére De Provence a nice fit for a cigar. (See our pairing below.)
Based in Delaware and founded by Sam Calagione, Dogfish Head is celebrating 21 years in business. One of the largest craft breweries, the company is known for creating beers that fall outside normal style guidelines. Last year, LNK, a private equity firm based in New York City, acquired a 15 percent stake in the brewery.
Dogfish Head Bière de Provence (8.3 percent abv, $11.99 per four-pack)
APPEARANCE: Pours a clear, golden honey color, with a thin, receding head that froths back up with a small swirl.
NOSE: Soft floral (lavender oil) and straw fragrance followed by a healthy dose of candied banana and orange marmalade, with just a hint of anise.
PALATE: Slightly viscous mouthfeel that coats the mouth nicely. A burst of fruity sweetness (banana) starts things off, with herbal notes getting folded in one right after the other: lavender, bay leaf and then marjoram. Licorice essence, presumably from the chervil, shines through on the finish.
CIGAR PAIRING: La Hacienda Gran Robusto (Nicaragua, 5 1/2 inches by 52 ring gauge, $7.95, 90 points, August 2016 Cigar Aficionado) A finely crafted robusto with an oily wrapper and three-seam cap. First puffs are very floral, but settle down to show a woodier, nuttier smoke with touches of brown sugar.
This cigar was chosen because its medium body matches up well with this slightly heavier-than-usual saison. The results were splendid, as the smoke boosted the brew's flavor profile while teasing out more of its spice, particularly the licorice. Simultaneously, the beer tempered the nuttiness in the smoke, boosting its sweetness.